First grade and my father shows me I can whistle to the chickadees and they will answer. I learn at the bottom of our driveway waiting for the school bus.

Around the same time, I learn that the delicate parts of food, like broccoli florets, are digested by the body first. I start to think about dying for the first time. About which parts of my dinner might be left over.

I am fascinated by how our house has scissors we use for everything, including haircuts, thrown into a junk drawer that barely closes and my friend’s house has everything…

from the desert, once a week

I am woken around one in the morning to the sound of a bird in pain. I have never heard a bird in pain. Their voice—a quail’s, I think—is strangled. Their call is slowed down and dragged out. They sound, again and again, slower and slower, more and more in pain in a sound I can’t make, for reasons I don’t know.

Half awake, I wonder if they have been caught by a snake or if their family has been annihilated. These are the only two scenarios I can imagine.

I’m trying to remember…

from the desert, once a week.

Sometimes, when I whisper for my cat to join me, she does. Hops or crawls up, her thick pink belly swinging. She folds her paws under herself and stares at me, angles herself to be pet the way she likes.

Other times, she will not.

This is love. Coming and watching and sometimes saying no, with your body. Mostly, though, saying yes with everything.


Middle of the day, I am crying. My friend reaches for her coffee and I think she is going to hug me. I bark, “I don’t want a hug…

from the desert, once a week

A bird calls. I forget to listen to it. Someone else answers. More bird, better bird, good bird.

It hurts and I don’t say anything. Silent bird, quiet bird. I just don’t have it in me right now. Little bird.

I play records and the sky is on fire. I can crawl into the corner of my apartment and have a window and it is lovely in the way anything we never thought we would have is lovely.

I make decent coffee and swallow these pills and make eye contact with my cat and…

from the desert, once a week

I would like the ocean’s small mouth noises in a tub in my backyard. What does that say about me?

I am sad and the clock, which is fine, tells me it is 8:36am. I have made coffee, squinted at the sun, spilled water all over the counter, put on a bathrobe, written, read.

I have mostly lived where everything would not shutup — the car horns, the children, the ice cream truck, the mosquitos, the crickets, the television, the neighbors, the ambulances. Here it is quiet or quails or birds I don’t know…

from the desert, once a week

When God was still good, I was seven.

I drew my name on the manila sides of my bible and thought about the boy I liked who sat a few rows behind me. Nothing ever sunk in—not the devil, not the disciples, not the crosses or the ways I was supposed to be a better child.

When God was still good, I was seven, and everything to happen to me. I still thought saying no was a sin. I guess that sunk in.

When God was still good, I was seven and I thought…

little bits from the desert, once a week.

Last night I had a dream that you said, “Tell me everything” and I knew where to begin. I can’t remember where that was now.

Here, now, is the desert. Early morning where the windows can still be open and I watch which birds fly overhead to see if I know any of them by wing tips or calls, though I’ve given little energy to any research on birds of the desert. …

written after Mary Ruefle’s MONUMENT

A small world had ended. Like all worlds, it was made of time. The Canadian-American border stood between us would never vanish. I had moved to the island because you were there. I had flown back and forth, and you had been still. And now, I was sitting on a ferry, watching sky eat ocean. The water was the same, but now it was the one that washed me away from you. It was a rainy day on the island and people were wearing raincoats and scarves, dazed by the rain, which was not the…

85.9% of librarians in America are white. [1]

Let’s start there.

Libraries, beloved institutions touted as one of the “last bastions of our democracy,” held in high esteem for being free and “for all” by famous writers, educators, politicians, and actors — by you, yourself, perhaps — are run by white people in a huge majority.

In 2017, 149,692 librarians were white. 11,213 were Black. 6,938 were Asian. 4,975 were of two or more races. 1,002 identified as Other. 545 were American Indian.

The long-standing and widely held belief that libraries are separate or “safe” from, or resolutely and unanimously…

Mind Games

Now, I see my former trauma as an opportunity for growth

A selfie photo of the author with short cropped hair.
A selfie photo of the author with short cropped hair.
Photo courtesy of the author.

For five years I’ve kept the bones of an essay about having alopecia on my desktop. That essay begins by telling the reader about the first time someone pointed out a bald spot on my head. It was Josh Pfolhs — the most popular boy in the fifth grade — loudly, during a spelling test. Then there are a few pages about my childhood and a few more pages about high school and college and a sort of log of each major flare-up.

Then I stop writing or editing it. Sometimes for a year or longer.

Because I have never…

Amanda Oliver

writer & former librarian • A LIGHT forthcoming from Chicago Review Press 2022 •

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